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The King of Comedy (1982): “Better to be King for a Night than a Schmuck for a Lifetime” | Transcript

Rupert Pupkin's monologue is a pivotal moment that showcases his character's blend of humor, desperation, and delusion, revealing the lengths he's willing to go to for a chance at stardom.
Better to be King for a Night than a Schmuck for a Lifetime

CLASSIC SCENE

This monologue comes from Martin Scorsese‘s film The King of Comedy (1982). It’s delivered by the character Rupert Pupkin, portrayed by Robert De Niro, who is an aspiring and delusional stand-up comedian. Pupkin dreams of achieving fame and success in the entertainment industry, often fantasizing about being a celebrated talk show host. The film explores themes of celebrity worship, the blurred lines between aspiration and obsession, and the dark side of seeking fame at any cost. Rupert Pupkin’s monologue is a pivotal moment that showcases his character’s blend of humor, desperation, and delusion, revealing the lengths he’s willing to go to for a chance at stardom.

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Rupert Pupkin: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Let me introduce myself. My name is Rupert Pupkin. I was born in Clifton, New Jersey… which was not at that time a federal offense. Is there anyone here from Clifton? Oh, good. We can all relax now.

I’d like to begin by saying… my parents were too poor to afford me a childhood. But the fact is that… no one is allowed to be too poor in Clifton. Once you fall below a certain level… they exile you to Passaic.

My parents did put the first two down payments on my childhood. Don’t get me wrong, but they did also return me to the hospital as defective.

But, like everyone else I grew up in large part thanks to my mother. If she were only here today… I’d say, “Hey, ma, what are you doing here? You’ve been dead for nine years!” But seriously, you should’ve seen my mother. She was wonderful. Blonde, beautiful, intelligent, alcoholic. We used to drink milk together after school. Mine was homogenized. Hers was loaded. Once they picked her up for speeding. They clocked her doing 55. All right, but in our garage? And when they tested her… they found out that her alcohol had 2% blood.

Ah, but we used to joke together, mom and me… until the tears would stroll down her face… and she would throw up! Yeah, and who would clean it up? Not dad. He was too busy down at O’Grady’s… throwing up on his own. Yeah. In fact, until I was 13 I thought throwing up was a sign of maturity. While the other kids were off in the woods sneaking cigarettes… I was hiding behind the house with my fingers down my throat. The only problem was I never got anywhere… until one day my father caught me. Just as he was giving me a final kick in the stomach for luck… I managed to heave all over his new shoes! “That’s it”, I thought. “I’ve made it. I’m finally a man!” But as it turned out, I was wrong. That was the only attention my father ever gave me. Yeah, he was usually too busy out in the park playing ball with my sister Rose. But today, I must say thanks to those many hours of practice my sister Rose has grown into a fine man.

Me, I wasn’t especially interested in athletics. The only exercise I ever got was when the other kids picked on me. Yeah, they used to beat me up once a week… usually Tuesday. And after a while the school worked it into the curriculum. And if you knocked me out, you got extra credit. There was this one kid, poor kid… he was afraid of me. I used to tell him…”Hit me, hit me. What’s the matter with you? Don’t you want to graduate?” Hey, I was the youngest kid in the history of the school to graduate in traction.

But, you know, my only real interest right from the beginning, was show business. Even as a young man, I began at the very top collecting autographs. Now, a lot of you are probably wondering… why Jerry isn’t with us tonight. Well, I’ll tell you. The fact is he’s tied up. I’m the one who tied him. Well, I know you think I’m joking… but, believe me, that’s the only way… I could break into show business… by hijacking Jerry Langford. Right now, Jerry is strapped to a chair… somewhere in the middle of the city. Go ahead, laugh. Thank you. I appreciate it. But the fact is, I’m here. Now, tomorrow you’ll know I wasn’t kidding… and you’ll think I was crazy. But, look, I figure it this way. Better to be king for a night than schmuck for a lifetime. Thank you. Thank you.

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